IT'S a sad state of affairs when we become so enraptured by our own dance
that we fail to notice the other couples who are drifting off the dance
floor. How many times have we turned away and pretended not to see the
danger signs in friends? How many times have we watched a tragedy unfold
and said nothing, thinking foolishly that our words would strain the
delicate web of friendship?
As my partner and I slouch toward 30 (which is, quite coincidentally,
the old newspaper code for "the end") we're noticing some
disturbing changes in our social circle. A formerly well-adjusted couple,
whom we'll call the Dealers, have become moody and withdrawn as of late. These
former club-crawlers have taken to staying in, hunkered down over a game of
bridge. We hope this is not a trend. Virtual Reality, rave parties and
retro-disco we can accept, but an endeavor that involves
"rubbers," "dummies" and "odd tricks" is
simply beyond the pale. Friends don't let friends deal bridge.
Crisis intervention occurred on a recent Friday night: Before they could
so much as utter "trick bid," they were stuffed in the back of an
unmarked car and sped across town to the Bottom of the Hill, the newest
stop on San Francisco's alternative-rock circuit. The 6-month-old club, in
a sleepy industrial neighborhood on the north slope of Potrero Hill, is
proof that quality local rock doesn't dwell only in the Haight and the 11th
Were it not for the fab neon sign above the transom and ace DNA Lounge
doorman Tommy Vision standing watch underneath it, a passerby could easily
mistake the club for a run-of-the-mill neighborhood dive. Inside, the decor
takes a surreal turn. The main room is a riot of candy colors and
trapezoidal angles -- like Salvador Dali run amok in Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
Designer Barry Sinclair (the guy who did Julie's Supper Club) must have run
up a remodeling bill to match the national budget of Burundi.
We threaded our way through the wall-to-wall bodies and squeezed beside
the foot-high carpeted platform stage to take a quick census:
Many scrawny young Haight Street slackers with bad hair coloring and
attitudes to match, a handful of collegiate skate- punk wannabes in long cutoffs
and thrift-store T-shirts, a few Harley riders, a couple of wan young women
in housecoats who look like they fell out of a Lynda Barry cartoon, two
button-down Montgomery Street yuppies, one bona fide derelict and one
zaftig cabaret refugee turned out in a bowler hat, black lipstick, white
pancake makeup, a white T-shirt and black spats. My kind of people.
And there, holding court by the 15 beer taps behind the bar, is Ramona
Downey -- the coolest barkeep this side of "Casablanca." Looking
at Downey in her vintage Chanel suit and pillbox hat, you would not think
this was a woman who moved to Oakland so she could put a skateboard ramp in
her house. Think again. Downey, who ran the Hotel Utah for four years and
booked the Blue Lamp and the Starry Plough for two, is the reason the best
bands on the San Francisco circuit -- the Movie Stars, X-Tal, the
Sneetches, et al. -- instantly added the Bottom of the Hill to their dance
'Round midnight, as the humidity in the little room nears 100 percent,
the Jackson Saints (a very good quintet in the same vein as Sister Double
Happiness) open with a frenetic cover of the Velvet Underground's
"What Goes On." The crowd is all smiles as the charismatic lead
singer kicks off his shoes and jumps headlong into the human sea. Frankie
and Annette are fruggin' away on the three TV monitors over the bar as the
Saints uncork a buzz-saw version of the MC-5's trademark call-to-arms
"Kick out the jams motherrrrrrr . . ." More smiles all around.
Someday, when the light goes out on this tribe of kindred souls, we may
go quietly to find our places at that game of bridge. But not yet. Please,
not just yet . .
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St.
Music: 9:30 p.m.
Sundays-Tuesdays, 10 p.m.